No Comment Two (The Invention of Facts)

I started writing this piece a little over two years ago when, wondering if this was a debate whose terms I wanted to propagate, I thought twice. After the recent Godard retro in New York, however, thinking thrice, I've decided not to think about it again. With very special thanks to Sam Engel, Matthew Flanagan, Danny Kasman, Andy Rector, Gina Telaroli, who provided so much of the source code for this piece. There's no greater fount of wisdom in the world for a guy to plagiarize.

And so:

***

“Pauvres choses! Elles n’ont que le nom qu’on leur impose.”

“Poor things! They have nothing but the name imposed upon them.” — Film Socialisme

“You can stick your little pins in that voodoo doll.

Very sorry baby, doesn’t look like me at all.” — Leonard Cohen, “Tower of Song”

"Three Jewish characters, it's a lot for a single film. The fourth is myself—I'm a Jew of cinema.

Why this importance that you give, more and more it seems, to the Jewish fate?

It's come about little by little since I had to pursue my own education in the field. At my grandfather's place, as he was in favor of the collaboration, we'd hear Philippe Henriot's speeches every evening. My parents, during the war, were part of the Swiss Red Cross, and would visit refugee camps. But nobody explained to me what was going on.

And so later, little by little, I read, the right, the left, and I ended up finding correspondences. But deep down, I never managed to understand what it was to be Jewish. The only way, for me, to understand being Jewish [Jewish being], is to tell myself that I'm the same: I want to be with others and at the same time not be with others. It's something personal to me." — Jean-Luc Godard, interview with Le Monde on Notre Musique, 05/12/04

CAVEAT PREEMPTOR (UNWANTED INTENTIONS)

At some point during its montage on Palestine—or is that Palestinian territories?— Film Socialisme (2010) samples the soundtrack of 2008’s The Wedding Song: one girl, incanting the opening lines of The Talmud in Hebrew, harmonizes with another incanting the Qur'an in Palestinian Arabic. With a classical filmmaker's care for people and particularities, Godard has suggested reconciliations for the Middle East before—recently, that the Palestinians and Israelis should all walk their dogs together every morning to give themselves a shared activity and subject of conversation. The joke, of course, is that one might apply classical Hollywood ideals of liberty, equality, fraternity to geopolitical realities: that personal and physical relations might surpass those of the body politic. Like a lot of Godard's late quips, it serves as an elegy for its own impossibility. For only an artist in the grips of quixotic narrative would propose that the artist's quixotic narratives, of individuals, might en masse surpass the politician’s and polemicists' narratives—of states.

Still, Film Socialisme, in which two kids will win public office, brooks all sorts of cultural impossibilities, if only as a way of unfixing a language that has fixed the terms for what is possible at all. The sensible rationale for such quixotism, it seems, is that that cultural differences will never be bowled over or ironed out by diplomats, but must come to terms with each other on the kind of intimate level Marguerite Duras and Alain Resnais proposed years ago: the level of body and voice, image and sound. The artist's job is simply to play the role the diplomats have failed to, that of mediator: an arranger who takes the found footage of movies, writings, music, and individuals speaking on their own terms, in their own language, and puts them in montage with each other. “What Godard says, very uncomfortably and very honestly, is that the true place of the filmmaker is in the AND,” wrote Serge Daney in 1977 on Ici et Ailleurs (1976). “A hyphen only has value if it doesn’t confuse what it unites."

Which is why even replying to assertions of anti-Semitism in Film Socialisme that have been based off half-examined evidence is to admit an illegible—ineligible?—question; such a question’s skewed terms, that the movie is little more than a coded value judgment (cf. Vrai Faux Passeport [2006]), delegitimize any possible discussion about a movie that’s cobbled together from these found citations, locations, animals, and people speaking on their own terms. Even to assume that the movie is making claims is to assume one needs them decoded into legible terms: thus the critic raises auteurist simplifications to the highest justification of his craft, as if the act of criticism were a great, enlightening processing plant to package the raw materials of art into consumable, brand-name labels. This is not quite a Hawks movie, and probably can’t be talked about like one. Any claims on Film Socialisme necessarily settle and define as an object a movie of puns and paradoxes whose repeated anti-motto is to tear down borders and do away with categorical name-calling—and a movie whose underwriting paradox is that it can, of course, work only within the names and terms, however corrupted, that history has ordained. Or rather, that have ordained history.

Nevertheless, a claim of anti-Semitism, rather than anti-Zionism, and a specific case of anti-Zionism is something else: a pre-emptive attack on the entirety of a movie that spends its running time searching out relations and correlations between cultures, languages, histories, bodies, images, and so on, and attempting their reconciliation in rhythm and rhyme. Even posing the question of whether or not the movie's anti-Semitic fails the the thing’s own question of how, in a world in which both actions and beliefs are determined in mass by a social syntax of party lines, class divisions, and racial distinctions, it might be possible to “replace ‘to be’ with ‘to have’”: to see those distinctions not as genetic but genealogical; to replace the essentialisms of types, stereotypes, and a providential "nature" with the relativities of historical, ever-provisional circumstance. And then, something harder: to overcome and overwhelm the abstracted distinctions and determinations of language within the possibilities of its signifiers; to rediscover the material particularities behind such possibilities; or rather, the opposite, to trace the infinite possibilities of such finite particularities. Meaning?

***

There are no experts on Film Socialisme, and hopefully won’t be: for as long as people are willing to discuss it, the movie can remain an open range asking only our ignorance, a movie Godard has barely conceived, but found and arranged as a montage from established traditions. Only intentions are clear, and without a necessary caveat that the critic’s interpretations are his own and not Godard’s, Godard’s conversation with the audience and sights and sounds around him turns into the harangue of a lecturer insistent that movies must provide a worldview instead of a world—that everything on-screen can be decoded into a language of value judgments and beliefs.

“I’ll hold those close to me who disapprove my actions, but not my existence,” Godard quotes a philosopher’s gloss of Saint Augustine. As Godard insists on reproaching actions rather than existences, what's enjoined is not so much name-calling but a play-by-play breakdown. A more legitimate, legible question might be how the movie challenges a Western tradition whose historical terms are both anti-Semitic and foundationally Judaic. The total references to Jews and Jewish thought and action constitute perhaps five minutes of Film Socialisme, but as any five minutes of the movie might be watched to see its whole, they’re still as good a starting point for discussion—for dialogue—as any. In three parts:

CODENAME NEMO

If Film Socialismeis “anti-Semitic” in any way it is might be in its (Judaic) challenge to the notion that terms “Semitic” and “Jew” have any sort of universally determined features one might oppose. Thus complaints of the “Goldberg” character, identified as “Gold mountain,” ignore that the name is a pseudonym taken by—or given to—Richard Christmann, the historical Nazi triple agent now aboard Godard’s ship bearing a few new names—and, as portrayed by the actor's Fedora-trench coat caricature, a new body as well. If it signals anything, Goldberg's gold mountain must signify the hordes of gold stolen from the Spanish Republic in 1936 by the Nazis and Soviets—and in Godard’s version, Christmann himself—in order to finance the massacre of Jews, including a 1941 massacre in Odessa that would nearly substantiate the images Eisenstein conceived over a decade before. The essential stereotype of the Jew as swindler and gold-hoarder gets a neat inversion: it is Jewish persecutors who have stolen the money to fund Jewish persecution.

As the movie tells it, all names here are "impositions" predicated on their own inauthenticity—as Godard's been openly figuring characters as collage elements since as early as the peasant triumvirate of Ulysses, Michel-Ange, and Venus in Les Carabiniers (1963). Naturally, one deduces, Godard is a linguistic pervert. So to assume that Godard sees historical names and figures as his kind of cultural readymades is to see how he overturns the image in its own terms, by retelling it. By having a Nazi named after Christ assume a stereotypical Jewish name—as evidently— the labels of both “Nazi” and “Jew” are brought to the breaking point where such historical distinctions become inadequate to individual actions.

But—another interpreter could say, convinced that the movie is the Word of Godard—Godard also pairs them together, as if to show that no label, even “Jew,” exculpates anyone from a post-Nazi landscape that flows with Nazi money, that however determined not to repeat the past is determined by it. For even to pit “Nazi” against “Jew” would only repeat the Nazis’ terms: once Jews are othered by an ideological discourse that worked to few other ends, only then do Jews become “the Jews,” a distinguishable group that can be mystified or vilified, but that is relatable only as the negative image of the "Nazis." Neutered of any features of their own, the Jews, even as a Nazi inversion, would still remain the inverted creation of their self-declared enemies.

Still, even this paradox would assume that we should ignore what’s on-screen—a character using a pseudonym—and translate the intentions behind it: as if “Goldberg” were Godard’s affixation, rather than Christmann’s own. If, instead, one takes “Goldberg” as the Nazi’s invention and provocation, it's possible to come to a very different, archetypal conclusion that Judaism and Nazism must be held as strict ideological oppositions, lest their conflation commit the Nazis' crime of attributing their sins to their chosen enemies, the Jews. But this interpretation is maybe worse: in assuming that the character’s intentions are his own, we can only assume that Godard put them there, that they are still Godard’s under the cover his own character, himself under the cover of his own text. And all these decodings are based on another that, somehow, the name “Goldberg” is synonymous with “Jewish.”

Finally a name is a name, and any of these archetypes and interpretations seem useful only in so far as they contradict each other. Yet what all have in common is a steadfast refusal to say what “the Jews” means as a term when it’s so often been appropriated and rewritten by Jewish enemies like the Goldberg-cum-Christmann. “Goldberg—gold mountain,” intones another passenger, spying on the spy. So Christmann, a man of only disguises, is a gold mountain, evacuated of all personality except the lustrous image of a gangster he’s bought into: as much a meaningless re-appropriation as his pseudonym.

But even this isn’t adequate either. The break-down of “Goldberg,” “gold mountain,” comes as the middle of three consecutive sequences on the origins of name:

  1. Alyssa, Christmann/Goldberg’s granddaughter, writes her name in Egyptian hieroglyphics, mostly birds (for Horus), and spells it letter by letter.
  2. Goldberg is declared “gold mountain.”
  3. And finally Alyssa again meows after a YouTube clip of talking cats and declares that the Egyptians named their cats “meows” for the sound they made.

So the movie offers three more contradictory interpretations for the origins of naming: graphic, etymological, phonetic. If Godard seems to prefer the last, echoed in the movie's late Roman Jakobson quote that “it’s impossible to dissociate sound from meaning,” it is perhaps because the sound of a thing, unlike its image or etymology, can never quite be codified beyond its representation of itself as an individual voice. If he seems to prefer the first two, it is perhaps because each—the combination of images and words into new units of languages—is a sort of primal form of montage.

In any case, “gold mountain” remains one decoding of a word that might also mean Jew or a Nazi, Christmann or his actor, or be interpreted graphically or phonetically as one pleases. And again these paths are useful only as contradictions. Ultimately “Goldberg” means only “Goldberg,” and certainly not “Christmann.” In a C-movie reveal, the Russian spy will confront him with what she takes as his “real” name, “Herr Kravitsky!” But this disguise is as inadequate as any other in covering the hidden depths of crime. The script to Film Socialisme does away with names altogether in identifying its sources: author’s portraits are shown alongside the quotes instead.

Still, if this name does have any sort of significance within a movie that constantly overwhelms any stable, singular significance with potential connotations, it’s possibly as a response to the letter the Zionist Gershom Scholem wrote anti-Zionist German-Jew Franz Rosenzweig in 1926: a letter cited by Godard in the “Palestine” section of the movie and announced and “renounced” to the world in the 80s by Jacques Derrida, a Jewish “anti-Zionist”—for whatever the phrase means. To reduce Derrida’s examination, Scholem pits the “secularization” of language as an empty formality and “ready-made phrase” against the apocalyptic, religious language that will rise up and give The Word meaning as itself. All language that has served to represent things other than itself—and idealize such things in types—will be destroyed, and all communication will be impossible, in the eye of this “volcano,” as terms lose any wider currency than the single object they speak for.

What is the word that can only mean one thing, the object that can’t be decoded as anything but itself, the hapax legomenon? Namely—or nearly—a proper name: “in order for it to take the initiative of thus avenging itself,” says Derrida, glossing Scholem, “language has to be someone; I am not saying a subject, but it must be speech speaking in the name of someone, bearing the name of someone.” Ideally, a person’s name means only himself. “Speech is name,” says Scholem. “In the names, the power of language is enclosed; in them, its abyss is sealed.”

Again “Goldberg” is only “Goldberg,” a false title when its pegs a man as a type. Film Socialisme, in the terms of these very different Jewish philosophers, adds the crime of language to all of Christmann’s others: a man who bandied titles without individual meaning, who equated cultural terms haphazardly, who, by taking whatever name he liked, failed Roman Jakobson’s pronouncement, stated after Scholem’s, that “it is impossible to dissociate sound and meaning,” that things should sound like what they mean. A Mabuse-like man of only masks, Christmann, like the money he’s stolen, takes whatever form he likes and in meaning everything means nothing. He is only the fixed idea of a gangster, its hollow image—but there’s still the pleasure of a Hollywood icon.

Still there are more inferences. Both Derrida and Stephane Mosès have deduced Scholem’s apocalyptic warning: “The day when the ‘ancient names and seals’—today buried away in the unconscious of secular culture—will emerge anew into the light of day, no one can say how they will be re-interpreted,” Mosès comments. Are these the “speechless bodies” (Benjamin) of the statues and relics from La Méditerrannée, interspersed throughout Film Socialisme—and Film Socialisme’s Egypt? The mystic past that once summoned will burst a secular present? Scholem sees this apocalypse, this risk of language that might destroy itself and any ability to communicate by reclaiming its original signification—the point at which the word connotes nothing but itself—as the risk of a Zionist enterprise to resurrect a holy tongue in the secular corruption of everyday speech. “This inescapable revolution of the language, in which the voice will be heard again, is the sole object of which nothing is said in this country,” writes Scholem. “Those who called the Hebrew language back to life did not believe in the judgment that was thus conjured upon us. May the carelessness, which has led us to the apocalyptic path, not bring about our ruin.”

Scholem warns of the language that “turns against its speakers”; Godard’s citation of the phrase rephrases Scholem’s warning against ready-made clichés, formalities from an ossified tradition, while turning Scholem’s own language against himself: no longer might Sholem's words connote any single, uniform voice, of Scholem, of 20s Zionism, of Hebraic tradition, of Film Socialisme, of Godard—but rather remain open to all these inflections of context. Scholem’s quote becomes neither empty phrasing nor an apocalyptic and religious reclamation of a language that the movie insists on sharing. Instead the phrase too becomes “full to bursting,” as Scholem warns of a corrupted Hebrew. It is a note on the futility of names, a challenge to representation that the movie must face in dealing with cultures—both Jewish and Palestinian—who have had their own traditions effaced, and their images imposed by oppressors. But it is also a note from 1926, as the movie specifies, from a German-Jewish Zionist and philosopher expressing doubts about the historical premises of the Zionist movement to a German-Jewish non-Zionist philosopher. The names pinpoint these individuals precisely enough to see how imprecise such labels are.

And yet—even so—the names taken in the rest of the movie—Florine and Lucien from Balzac’s Lost Illusions, which Florine reads; Alissa from Gide’s The Narrow Doorway, which Alissa reads—specify and generalize both. Unlike Christmann’s meaningless pseudonyms, they put the fact of these modern kids in relation to the fiction of old stories being retold.

MADLIBS (WAR OF THE WORDS)

Nearly incanted as accompaniment to Joan Baez singing Sagt mir wo die blumen sind, a man’s voice in the Palestine montage of Film Socialisme’s third part quotes Genesis: “Isaac asked his father: ‘I see the fire. I see the knife. I don’t see the lamb.’ Abraham replied: ‘God will see to… the burnt offering.” But “burnt offering” is “l’holocauste” in French, and as the Baez cuts off, a title card flashes “juifs,” “Jews,” over the image of an emaciated body. “The crusade for Jerusalem explains many things,” says the voice. “If the Christians wanted vengeance, Jesus Christ was the person to avenge.” Chaplin in Limelight attacks the violin, but no music is heard. Then Ford’s Cheyenne Autumn: another people whose land was taken and in a moment of American sympathy, turned into a Hollywood movie. “Palestine.”

In other words? Primally, the material is what's the matter, and the matter is what's material. The images of acrobats over the sea playing as Baez starts singing show a tentative geometry of bodies against the blue back; Godard’s suggested they’re Palestine and Israel co-dependent in the air as an international circus, that each without the other will fall, but this is less a metaphor’s vehicle than a manifestation of human interaction as physical, personal, and fantastical, beyond the definitions of space or language or the conceptualizations of history. Freezing and then releasing them in vectors across the sky, Godard’s extends their own elastic path and not-quite-levitation-in-the-air through slow-motion and stills suspending them at their apex: the variable pace works the acrobats' catch-release rhythm on an audience anticipating their inevitable flight across the screen. Flanked by the Bible story and a Baez ballad, the whole sequence seems to operate as a kind of abstract fabulation, a series of elements, movements, and melodies treated, much like the acrobats, as interchangeable syntactical units within recurring refrains. The story of Isaac awaiting the sheep reflects as much on the Holocaust as it does on sheep generally; so, next, Godard shows a clearly-contemporary sheep in slow handheld-DV motion, in a metered beat of tiny camera jerks, and then—another release—a half-second shot of a couple running past the sheep in Week End on their own way to slaughter. Cut to black and the holocaust. Which symbol is a sign for which? As always, the fairy tale is betrayed by reality; or is it the other way around?

That Sagt mir wo die blumen sind, heard for about 10 seconds of the movie, is a German language version of a Pete Seeger American pacifist hit, played by Godard in anticipation of Jews and the Holocaust, starts to suggest some ways in which movie bridges cultures on their own terms—as earlier it includes Barbara’s Gottingen, a French pacifist hit from the 60s about a French girl’s love affair in Germany that, it’s been dubiously suggested, did more to improve French-German relations than any politician or diplomat. Sagt mir wo die blumen sind, some assiduous googling reveals, got its inspiration in a Cossack folk poem Seeger read, but was translated into German with additional lyrics by Max Colpet, the German-Jewish screenwriter who co-wrote Rossellini’s Germany Year Zero, the tale of a boy’s attempt to live in a post-Holocaust world that would be “retold” in Godard’s Allemagne Année Neuf Zéro and Notre Musique. All of which might suggest some ways in which Godard fosters accidents and contradictions in his work-process against a dogma of strict intentions, and yet how, within such an inclusive system, nothing seems left by chance.

The sheep is not a metaphor; she is another real, “found,” if arbitrary, placeholder for a sacrifice that has been determined before the victim has been provided. But a placeholder: Isaac will have to take the place of the lamb in the sacrifice just as, a moment later, he will be saved when a ram takes his place in turn. The relationship between Isaac and the sheep, then, is metaphoric in a way as each might stand in for the other—but the author of such a metaphor is the God-like victimizer who decreed that his blood-thirst must be sated. What does it say, then, that in Godard's syntax, sheep and Isaac will now turn out to be placeholders for historical victims of modernity? Only that history itself has invented such a syntax of sacrificial rites for which the victim is arbitrary. Thus in the movie’s recursive timeline, when the Christians “wanted vengeance,” they had neither a reason—Jesus would provide one—nor, evidently, a target. If even the reason for a crusader’s itch is arbitrary, and no motivation suffices to explain this persecution or eternal bloodlust, still “the crusade for Jerusalem” “explains many things” about a historical grammar needing only the object for the bloodlust written in. Godard offers the word “juifs,” and it’s only the title and name of Jew—nothing about Jewish culture—that is needed to provide the crusaders’ scapegoat. But then it is the “juifs” too who are soon attacking Palestinians and usurping their land: a simple anti-Zionist reading. The object becomes the subject; victim, victimizer. History is a story told over and over; here, the Jewish story of Abraham and Isaac.

A correct interpretation? Anti-Christian and at least anti-Zionist? Maybe not even. What is easy to see is the particular crisis of representation Godard must have faced when he was banned from shooting in Palestine: how to represent modern-day Palestine with images not of modern-day Palestine? There is, per Irmgard Emmelhainz, the problem of representing Palestine at all, of showing a country traditionally conceived in the Janus-faced roles of terrorist victimizers and innocent victims and unable to offer an image of itself apart from Zionist history. So the Palestine montage also recalls Sholem’s letter about a religious language in which words and representations will lose universalizing connotations; and Jakobson’s line again that a thing should mean what it sounds like, that (shunning similes) the representation of an object must be the thing it represents: things should be allowed to represent themselves.

The fact that nearly the entirety of quotations in the four-minute Palestine montage are from (or allude to) Jewish philosophy and writers, including Sholem, Rosenzweig, Derrida, Jakobson, Genesis, Song of Songs, and Colpet—but Revelations too—indicates Godard’s solutions, reconciliations, and multiplying paradoxes. Still refusing to represent Palestine year 2011 without having been there, Godard, per Andy Rector, restages an image of an Arab man with his donkey and TV from Histoire(s), shows Egyptian women hanging out by the sea in the direction of Palestine, and stages a belly-dance dream sequence of an Arab youth that’s an open invention of the youth's reality. So his quotations, about the singularity of things that break through the abstraction of general terms, come from Jewish philosophers, and are-reapplied as abstract problems of Palestinian representation as well. Thus cultures are bridged in this abstract archetype of history, taken from Genesis, in which victims are defined by their victimizers and victimizers are defined by their victims. To invert the historical roles is still to accept their validity as archetypes, if not their applications: one must work within the terms history has provided.

So nothing here might be seen, demonstrably, as Godard’s “view": it is history, not Godard, that insists on abstract, generalizing, dialectical terms. Even if the victimizers choose their role, it is one long ago written and well played—by Nazis, by crusaders—though there is perhaps the point that one moral crime of propagandists and victimizers is to determine, like a filmmaker, another's role as victim (and as other). Earlier an off-screen voice alludes to the failed/invented (avortée/inventée) resolutions of the United Nations in 1948, and when one character asks an elderly, mustachioed man where the gold from the Bank of Palestine has gone, the man points to his presumably gold tooth. The man is Robert Maloubier, not Jewish, but a real-life French Resistance hero who fought across Europe and Asia throughout World War II and later developed the Fifty Fathoms watch, possibly seen in the movie and still used by the military underwater. For Maloubier himself to say that the Palestine gold flows through the teeth of Europe is acknowledge a complicity that extends beyond any name-calling but, if anywhere, must originate not with the Jews, but Europeans. What is the origin of money? Whoever gives it value: the author who determines it and the reader who accepts the terms.

If there were simply a stress here that the Israelis will once again have to bear the burden of a Jewish history written for them in the responsibilities of managing a state imposed on the Palestinians, even that condescending sympathy—more prescripts—would fail to confront a failure of words and language, of definition, that have made for such irreconcilable terms between countries. As even property definitions are a matter of name-calling (a UN proclamation; a man calling land his own), the Palestine montage nearly opens with an intertitle of superimposed text: “Palestine,” in red Hebrew, covering over “the state of Palestine,” in white Arabic. This neat labeling, to be challenged by the reunions of the acrobats’ bodies and the voices of the Israeli and Palestinian girl, looks easy enough to decode. It is an abstract: one idea on top of another. Still the fact that “Barcelona” and other titles will also come in red might qualify any notion that Godard is arguing politics in color-codes (as the colors are conflated in the flag of 2004’s Prières pour les refuzniks); as might the fact that “Palestine” is not officially a word in Hebrew, and that in placing it on-screen, the movie imagines mutual terms for reconcilement beyond what is even linguistically permissible today among states.

IN SEARCH OF LOST SPACE (FAULTS AND DEFAULTS)

And the sequence in which it is declared that "Hollywood was invented by the Jews," accompanied by a sound/image of gunfire and DVD menu reading "Play Movie," culminates a sequence that's already posited Hollywood as a sort of reverse-shot to Israel: the other holy site founded by 20th century culture. As the Jews invented Hollywood, the UN "invented" Israel, an off-screen voice announces as Lieutenant Delmas bends down in the cruise's art gallery a minute earlier in the film; the US, the voice continues, would be agreeable ("disponible," available) after 1948. The shot is succeeded by one of a waitress serving drinks and a patron's check in the Concordia church-bar. If the Jews invented Hollywood, only the Christians could have invented this sanctuary of bling in which one can both commit and atone for one's sins simultaneously: this image of a sanctified pleasure palace is, of course, that of the cruise ship as a whole. In the following shot, a guy seen sitting at lunch is accompanied by a voice-over that continues even as the diegetic sound of the cafeteria cuts: "My friends, I've seen too much. The black box—voilà why Hollywood is called the Mecca of cinema—the tomb of the pharaoh—all look in the same direction—the movie theater." Black boxes and buried tombs: the movie continues to dig into its favorite theme, buried treasure, the interred origins of a lethal history (the grave of the birth of death). And a question straight from Oedipus Rex: will unearthing the origins not only explain but resolve this fatal story?

The tomb and the black box are, of course, unseen, but one must look towards them nevertheless. Of course: just as Islamic ritual ordains that masses of strangers across the world join together simultaneously and look "in the same direction" towards Mecca, Hollywood ritual ordains that masses of strangers in the dark join together simultaneously and look in the “same” direction towards the screen, towards mythic scenes that in a very different sense aren't there at all either. Lest such religious genuflection to images, even those unseen, seem obvious, Godard, early on in Scénario du Film Passion (1982), points out another alternative pioneered by the late 20th century:

"On television you can't... they're never facing the screen, the people who speak, the announcers, they're never facing the screen. The image is always behind them, never in front. One TV, they see nothing, because they turn their backs on the image instead of facing it. The image sees them. And those who manipulate the image see them. And those who manipulate the image shove it up their ass. And that's how one gets sodomized."

In retrospect, Godard's great obsession with anal sex in the early 80s—particularly in Sauve qui peut (la vie), in which Salo-style sexual debasements are not merely categorized but coordinated into an assembly line of sound-image production, each figure objectified into a cog of dream factory mechanization—might appear to those with the right (or wrong) eyes simply as an attempt to reduce televisual perversions to contrived primal origins. What happens, in a TV (and internet) culture of panoramic pornography, propaganda, and surveillance, when the viewer is now the viewed? At least with cinema, in a darkened room, facing forward, the gaze might be reciprocated; both parties might join in complicit fucking. With TV, with the internet, it takes only one to fuck the other over. We're all getting fucked by the images around us.

One thinks one controls the remote at the dinner table without realizing that the scene of dinner itself is straight from TV. So successfully has religious iconography been denuded of its functions in its fall from grace to television that the images on TV now appear merely as pliable and banal as the scenes around the TV—created in its images. What is needed, then, is a more speculative cinema, image-and-sound combinations that will not continue on in the background during bathroom breaks, but require the viewer's attention and complicity in animating them to life. Unseen images, even: images that must be imagined. Film Socialisme continues on with an image of a compass (one of at least a few in the movie) on top of a book in Arabic that looks like a guide. The compass steadies; it reads, in both Arabic and English, "direction Kaaba"—that is, "the direction of Mecca," towards which the devout must pray. As always, classicism is the religion from which Godard, with the rest of us, has fallen: this compass, marking a very different trajectory than that of the cruise ship Costa Concordia, presumes a uniform gaze that operates within established spatial coordinates only to seek unseen sights—the religious gaze of Mecca and Hollywood alike. "Stock up your images, because they're in the desert where you must seek them," Godard will quote Jean Genet. As Godard joins Derrida in deriding "information" in the Palestine section, this model of cinematic inquiry, seeking what isn't there, must be counterpoised to that of the fact-checker who works only to affirm imposed narratives: unlike Genet's desert-seeker, "historians do not seek," reads the voice-over. "They find."

But now the controversial part. "Ja wohl," another voice hammily declares over the shot of the warbling compass. Just the two words of thick German would be enough of a clue to suggest the speaker, even if his voice weren't recognizable from previous on-screen and off-screen monologues. ("We must talk in a low voice so that the girl doesn't hear us," he says earlier over a shot of the girl, Alyssa, descending the elevator, as if each voice-over in the movie were commentary from a surveillance squad over the action they monitor and manipulate—"but there's no way to stop her from imagining"). So it is the Nazi, Christmann, who announces that the Jews invented Hollywood just after it's announced that America helped invent Israel. The image of the Scarface DVD menu, a rapid burst of gunfire, is not just a caption to suggest the paradox of Hollywood gangsterism producing such glories as Scarface itself—in which case Godard need not have shown a DVD menu. Instead, it is an endlessly looping image for a movie that can be played over and over again. As Godard shows again and again himself, History, like Hollywood, will churn out the same stories again and again when revenge cycle of "chosen peoples" go unvanquished. The problem remains in the terms, and to decode Godard's message into comprehensible terms is to miss his dialectical questioning of the terms themselves in which all readers must be complicit: for who is really the gangster when a Nazi is talking about Jews? As Godard's critics have shown, any condemnation of the state of Israel for its crimes will only be assimilated into terms of war against a race. Everyone comes out sullied for even speaking.

Images: Manhandled (Allan Dwan, 1924); Which Way to the Front? (Jerry Lewis, 1970); Little Beau Pepé (Chuck Jones, 1952); The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (Fritz Lang, 1960)

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  • Robert W Peabody III

    “I started writing this piece a little over two years ago…”
    The energy of that piece had me imagine you wrote it at once.

  • Neil Bahadur

    I know I’ve said this already, but god David, this is fantastic.

  • David Phelps

    Ahh, thanks dudes.

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